The police regularly break Home Office rules governing their dealings with informants and in so doing often engage in questionable practices, according to researchers at Hull University.
The conclusion is based on interviews carried out by the researchers, Clive Norris and Colin Dunningham, with more than 200 uniformed police officers, CID detectives and informers. The researchers say that their findings indicate that reform of Home Office rules governing police dealings with informers is needed.
According to the study, officers go to great lengths to keep the identity of their informers out of official gaze. Some 25 per cent of detectives interviewed were prepared to lie in court to protect an informer. The help of informants in 34 prosecution cases examined by the researchers was not mentioned at all in files despite Crown Prosecution demands that such information be divulged.
Secrecy in dealings with informants is also evident at police headquarters where informants should be officially registered. Fifty-five per cent of all police - uniformed and CID - and 75 per cent of CID officers said they had used unregistered informers although some officers may have wanted to check the informant's reliability before using him or her.
The study found that incentives for informants tended to include both financial and non-financial rewards that were often unauthorised. Financial incentives ranged from Pounds 5 to Pounds 200 and in more than half the cases the money came out of the detectives own pockets or even the office "tea fund".
The money was clawed back either by reducing the informant's official reward or through working overtime. Non-financial rewards range from "losing" prosecution files to dropping cases.
In explaining why so many official rules are broken, the researchers say 60 per cent of detectives and 30 per cent of supervisors believe that Home Office guidelines are not realistic. There is aalso a lack of confidence in supervisors with 75 per cent of detectives saying their supervisors were out of touch.
As well as urging a reform of official rules relating to police informants, the researchers say that more effective training programmes for those using informers should be devised.